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GOP’s Coronavirus Death Panelists Urge Pulling the Plug on Grandma

April 13, 2020

As both the body count and the financial misery from the American coronavirus outbreak continue to grow, the fierce debate over whether, when and how to “reopen” the U.S. economy is starting to boil over. Many of President Trump’s allies are apparently so eager for people to return to work that they are willing to pull the plug on grandma to do it.

As it turns out, some of those same GOP coronavirus death panelists were among the Republicans who decried mythical Obamacare “death panels” which supposedly would decide whether to “pull the plug on grandma.”

Consider, for example, noted falafel enthusiast and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Claiming this week that the “far-left wants chaos and carnage so President Trump will lose re-election,” O’Reilly proclaimed, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway.” Two weeks ago, his past colleague Glenn Beck offered to volunteer:

“I would rather have my children stay home and have all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working. Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country. Because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.”

Texas Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick echoed that sentiment on March 23. “I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me,” Patrick explained, “that what we all care about and what we all love more than anything are those children.” Asked if he would trade his survival for his grandchildren’s, Patrick said, “if that's the exchange, I'm all in.” (Brit Hume of Fox News concurred, saying “seems to me to be an entirely reasonable viewpoint.”) That message came four days after Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson tried to put the COVID-19 death toll in perspective. “it’s probably not worth shutting our economy down” over coronavirus, Johnson concluded. Why?

“Getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population [and] I think probably far less.”

That is a remarkable statement for Senator Johnson to have made, and not merely for its chilling cold-bloodedness or the inconvenient truth that older voters are the beating heart of the Republican base. That’s because in 2011, Johnson marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act with a Wall Street Journal op-ed (“ObamaCare and Carey's Heart”) which resurrected the already debunked myth of Obamacare “death panels.” Long after Politifact branded “Death Panels” its 2009 Lie of the Year, Johnson proclaimed “my daughter probably wouldn't have survived in a system where bureaucrats stifle innovation and ration care.”

I don't even want to think what might have happened if she had been born at a time and place where government defined the limits for most insurance policies and set precedents on what would be covered. Would the life-saving procedures that saved her have been deemed cost-effective by policy makers deciding where to spend increasingly scarce tax dollars?


As you should recall, earlier versions of what became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act called for Medicare to pay for optional doctor’s appointments to discuss living wills, health care directives and other end-of-life issues. It’s no wonder AARP endorsed the legislation. But in the hands of Clinton health care fabulist Betsy McCaughey that helpful provision for families became something else, something altogether sinister:

“Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”

But it was Sarah Palin who gave the “death panel” libel real life when she proclaimed this on Facebook on July 3, 2009:

"The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's ‘death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Of course, Palin was lying in order to prevent over 20 million Americans from obtaining health care coverage and tens of millions more a broad array of protections from the most predatory practices of insurers. Her fraud was downright evil. Yet other prominent Republicans soon picked it up and ran with it. House GOP leader John Boehner (R-OH) darkly warned, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law.” Former Speaker Newt Gingrich got in on the act, too, who baselessly asserted “there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia.”

Then there’s Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. In early August 2009, he and his Republican colleague Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were among five GOP Senators President Obama invited to the White House to discuss their ideas on health care reform. But just days later, Grassley ghoulishly used Hatch’s cancer-stricken close friend Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as a prop in yet another eliminationist Obamacare myth:

"In countries that have government-run health care, just to give you an example, I've been told that the brain tumor that Sen. Kennedy has -- because he's 77 years old -- would not be treated the way it's treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care he gets here because of his age."

It was bad enough that Senator Grassley was using a terminally ill colleague to wrongly smear both Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). But he wasn’t done there. As he put it later:

"When you couple this with all the other fears that people have, and you have what they do in England, then you get the idea that someone is going to decide grandma's lived too long.”

And that kind of government-mandated euthanasia, Chuck Grassley warned an Iowa town hall crowd, was coming to the United States if Democrats got their way:

"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life. And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

At the time, the “death panel” myth propagated by Palin, Grassley et al certainly enjoyed the amplification of the Fox News megaphone. Glenn Beck declared, “I believe it to be true.” Sean Hannity rang the alarm bell, too, with his bogus claim that “perfectly healthy senior citizens are going to be forced to undergo, quote, 'end of life counseling,' apparently to encourage them to check out before their time is up.” And on July 17, 2009, Laura Ingraham, the same Laura Ingraham who now wants President Trump to reopen the economy on “a date certain,” had this lie to tell:

“The fact that a government bureaucrat will come to an old person's house as a mandatory counseling session -- first of all, stay away from my father, who is 83 years old. I do not want any government bureaucrat telling him what kind of treatment he should consider to be a good citizen. That's frightening.”

But if that 2009 incarnation of the GOP’s “death panel” fraud started to fade into history, Republicans resurrected it in 2012. This time, the issue wasn’t end-of-life counseling sessions, but a mechanism set up by the Affordable Care Act to control the growth of the cost of Medicare. Writing in the Washington Post, Sarah Kliff explained how the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) was designed to work:

The IPAB would only come into effect when Medicare's per-enrollee spending grew faster than the average of overall price growth (measured by the Consumer Price Index) and medical price growth. That way, Medicare costs wouldn't rise as quickly as the rest of the health-care sector, but also have some wiggle room to grow faster than the rest of the economy.

As Jonathan Cohn explained, “Obamacare explicitly prohibits IPAB from "submitting proposals that would ration care, increase taxes, change Medicare benefits or eligibility, increase beneficiary premiums and cost-sharing requirements, or reduce low-income subsidies under Part D." Nevertheless, Sarah Palin once again denounced Obamacare “death panels.” Brit Hume carried her water, tweeting ‘Death Panels’ was no more an illegitimate bit of shorthand than ‘torture memos’ was in Bush 41 years.” Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price, the same Tom Price who would later humiliate himself as Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, declared, "What we oppose is the president deciding who gets what." And Tennessee Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais, best known for pushing his mistress to have an abortion, told reporters in March 2012 that the IPAB panel was "designed to put a Washington bureaucrat between the patient and their doctor."

Of course, that wasn’t true. And neither was the third and final version of the GOP’s death panels deceptions. As you may recall, a large part of the $1 trillion, ten-year cost of the Affordable Care Act came from some $716 billion in savings to payment to private Medicare insurers and providers. But as then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell started putting it in the summer of 2009, Democrats were “sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare.” As he put it that month:

"Some in Congress seem to be in such a rush to pass just any reform, rather than the right reform, that they're looking everywhere for the money to pay for it -- even if it means sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare."

It wasn’t true, but Republicans steamrolled Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, in large part thanks to a 59-38 percent margin among voters over age 65. GOP ads targeting vulnerable Democratic member of Congress claimed their opponents voted to cut Medicare benefits by $500 billion and would hurt seniors. Left unsaid by Republicans then, and during the 2012 election and even today is this: the GOP has no intention of restoring one dime of Obamacare’s savings to Medicare.  All of the GOP’s Obamacare “replacement” bills would maintain those supposed Medicare “cuts.’ As Health Affairs explain the $879 billion footnote in December 2015, GOP repeal legislation stated that:

“All provisions of PPACA and HCERA are repealed except for the changes to Medicare." (Emphasis added). [Note: PPACA and HCERA are the two statutory components of the law now known as the ACA -- or Obamacare.]

It’s no wonder why in 2017 House Speaker Paul Ryan went silent on his claim that “Obamacare raided and rationed Medicare to the tune of $800 billion.” Even after repealing Obamacare, Ryan, President Trump and the GOP majority needed that same money to pay for their Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Among the people who helped Trump get that tax cut bill signed was his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus. That would be the same Reince Priebus who as Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) said this in 2012 about President Obama and his signature health care reform, Obamacare:

“This president stole, he didn't -- he didn't cut Medicare. He stole $700 billion from Medicare to fund ObamaCare. If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it's Barack Obama.”

A year later, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) regurgitated that blood libel on the floor of the House, urging fellow member to “repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Speaking of blood on his hands, Donald Trump. And the folks who lied about Obamacare death panels are now telling him to end the Coronavirus restrictions on the American people and the U.S. economy pronto. On April 8, Laura Ingraham of Fox News tweeted, “At some point, the president is going to have to look at Drs. Fauci and Birx and say, we're opening on May 1. Give me your best guidance on protocols, but we cannot deny our people their basic freedoms any longer.” As for Senator Ron Johnson, in his March 31 USA Today op-ed he offered this consolation to those about to die for Trump:

“Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life.”

Especially when a Republican President is up for reelection.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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